Leroy slept off his hangover in the heat of the motel room.
“The A/C don’t work,” the tired-looking woman at the desk told him. “I tell you what — I’ll knock ten bucks off until it gets fixed.”
He gave Victor a hundred bucks to find a Wal-Mart and pick up the best oscillating fan he could find. He gave him another hundred to pick up a carton of Marlboros and a case of Red Dog, and some food. Mostly, he just wanted rid of him for a while.He didn’t want to talk about that summer anymore. He needed a break from recounting and recalling things he didn’t like to think about. In the back of his mind, he was still trying to work through what he was going to do about Marla. Her disappearance would have been noticed by now, and his, too. Someone was bound to put the two together.
“Merde,” he murmured into a dank and sweaty pillow. He turned it over, hoping the other side would be cooler, but he’d flipped it over several times already.
He closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but between the heat of the room and the whiskey sweat, he was finding it impossible. His head throbbed and his whole body ached. He told Varney all about taking Oscar out into the bayou to meet Chuk, and about cooking up Chuk’s babies, or whatever they were. He even told the creepy looking man about the addictive qualities of that strange meat — though that wasn’t something he figured out until some time later. He’d glazed over finding Mel Cayce’s body. He’d hoped to never see that kind of thing ever again, but they’d found Jean-Baptiste in the very same state. Pinned to the wall like a crucifixion, disemboweled and mutilated. At least Mel hadn’t been in his own home.
The day after Leroy had introduced Oscar to Chuk, they’d gone together to see Mel Cayce. First, to straighten him out on the matter of Leroy’s involvement with the missing children, and second, to find out what else he might know. Mel had a reputation as a raconteur of sorts, and his stories had a way of getting around. If he’d been telling people that he thought Leroy had something to do with those kids, why, there was no telling what some folks might do with that information.
They hadn’t found him at home. His daughter Melissa hadn’t seen him, either — said to try at the bar — sometimes if he’s tied one on after work, she said, he’ll crash on a cot he has there in the back.
He wasn’t crashed out on the cot.
Oscar leaned against the wall of Mel’s Bar and Grill and threw up his breakfast.
“Get him… get him down from there,” he moaned.
Leroy’s hands were trembling, but he pulled on Elmer Cayce’s hand until his arm tore free of the railroad spike that had been nailed between the two bones of his wrist. As he let go of the dead man’s hand, he immediately regretted it, as the body now hung by only the other wrist, and the weight proved too much. There was a horrible ripping sound as Mel’s other arm tore lose from the second spike, and Leroy swooned and had to bend over and retch.
“What are we going to do?” Leroy asked. “I mean, mon dieu, Oscar! Who could’ve done such a thing as this?”
“I don’t know,” Oscar admitted, shaking his head. “But we can’t let anyone see this.”
Leroy looked again at the body lying on the ground. There was surprisingly little blood — whoever had done this to Mel had obviously done it somewhere else, and moved the body there to display it. The man’s guts had all been removed, and without the majority of his torso to help support his upper body weight, the lower part of him had twisted and nearly broken off when the body had fallen to the ground.
“What are you sayin’?”
Oscar looked at the twisted remains of the man he’d known since he was he was a little boy. He couldn’t let the town see this. He couldn’t.
“Melissa can’t see this,” Oscar said. “Ain’t nobody got to see this, Leroy. It’d be chaos.”
Leroy didn’t have an argument.
“If we cover this up…” He couldn’t finish the thought. “We can’t do this. Whoever did this has to pay.”
Oscar nodded. “Whoever did this wants to send a message. Whoever did this wants us to make a big deal of this. This is a cry — a scream — for attention.”
Leroy sighed. “Yeah, well, it’s a good one. They got my attention.”
“It ends here,” Oscar said. “With us. I ain’t lettin’ whoever did this use Mel as part of their agenda. Mel don’t deserve that. He was a good man, and he deserves better than that.”
Leroy nodded agreement, and turned away. He couldn’t look at the mess they’d made of the man. He’d seen him not twenty-four hours earlier; shook his hand and exchanged friendly conversation.
“Well, you can’t let folks see him like this,” he said. “Ain’t no story goan explain his condition.”
“No,” Oscar admitted. “But, what if…”
“I doan like the sound of that.”
“Maybe it’s best if he just disappeared, like,” Oscar suggested. “Maybe it’d be better if Melissa just thought her daddy met with an accident.”
Leroy thought about his own daddy, and how for years he’d thought that he’d run out on him and his mama. Knowing the truth wasn’t any better, but at least he’d been able to stop hating the man.
“Better than this, anyhow,” he agreed, reluctant to say any more.
“Your friend in the bayou, what’d he say about bein’ hungry?”
“Jesus, Oscar! No! I ain’t feedin’ Mel Cayce to that thing!”
“It’s the only way I can think to make sure the body don’t turn up,” Oscar sighed.
“Really? The only way?” Leroy asked.
Oscar shook his head. “Maybe it’s the cleanest way. I don’t know. Or maybe I just want to know if that thing is involved with this somehow. Just do it, Leroy.”
“Just do it Leroy? What the hell do you want me to do?”
“Go on inside and see if you can get me a plastic sheet or something. And hurry up. Folks’ll be up and about soon. We got to get this cleared away before somebody sees us.”
Leroy went in through the back door of the bar, in through the kitchen, and came back out a minute later with an old ratty blanket — off of that cot that Mel kept there for the nights he was too drunk to stagger home, or if he wanted a night away from the wife, before she got wise to his wandering eyes and left him five years before.
“Help me wrap him up,” Leroy said, laying the blanket out on the gravel.
Victor knocked on the door and opened it. The pale man looked like he was about to keel over.
“Oh, tabernac, Victor, what the hell’s wrong wit you?” Leroy groaned, rolling out of bed and moaning as his head reeled and pounded.
“You know the sun ain’t good for me, Leroy,” Victor said, dropping a couple of grocery bags and running to the bathroom and splashing water on his face. “Makes me dizzy and sick. And it fucking burns!”
“What, you ain’t got no SPF 60?”
“Asshole,” Victor mumbled from the bathroom.
“Oh, don’t you try an’ sweet talk me, you.” Leroy started to laugh, and immediately stopped as it made him feel like throwing up, and he’d done enough of that already.
Victor came out of the bathroom, and Leroy took a look at the man’s face and frowned. His forehead and cheeks had broken out in painful looking blisters. Leroy knew that Victor didn’t like the sun, but he forgot just how bad it was.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, barely audible. “I am an asshole, Vic, and I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Victor sighed. “I got your fan out in my car, and the beer. You wanna give me a hand?”
The breeze from the fan wasn’t quite air conditioning, but as the sun went down, Leroy was finally able to get some rest. Victor brought him a loaf of bread and some peanut butter, which wasn’t exactly gourmet, but it soaked up the bile in his stomach. Then he cracked open a couple of Red Dogs and laid down to sleep. The old hair-of-the-dog remedy had always worked for him in the past.
He was in the middle of a nightmare — he was dreaming about drowning, and being ripped apart by tentacles. He had watched as C’thuN’Chuk tore hungrily at the remains of Elmer Cayce; had heard the horrible crunching sounds as it fed the pieces into its pulsating maw. He tossed uneasily on the uncomfortable mattress, unable to shake the memory. He was only half-asleep when the door swung open.
“He’s here! He’s here! Get up, Leroy!” Victor seemed terrified.
“The tall man I saw that night,” he explained, “it was the butcher. Gilles Duchesne.”
Leroy sat up in bed and winced as his head throbbed and his stomach lurched.
“Shut the door,” he said, and reached for his pack of cigarettes. “Now what’s this?”
Victor closed the door and leaned against it.
“He saw me,” he said. “I know it. Leroy, he’s gonna kill me.”
Leroy lit a cigarette and felt his head go light in a pleasant way.
“Slow down, Varney,” he said, exhaling. “What are you talking about?”
“He’s here. At the bar.”
“Gilles Duchesne,” Leroy said, and left unspoken his own fears.
Victor nodded. “He’s asking about Marla.”
Leroy dropped his cigarette and picked it up quickly with trembling fingers.
“What about her?”
“Dunno,” he said. “Only it sounds like he thought she might be here. But he saw me, Leroy! He saw me, and I saw him, and…”
“So you saw each other. So what?”
“So what if he knows?” Victor snapped. “What if he knows, and now he knows I’m here?”
Victor reached behind him and pulled out his gun from his jeans.
“Hey now, hang on, you,” Leroy said, holding out his hand and motioning for the gun. “You just hand that over here.”
Victor winced and shook his head. “I can’t let him get me.”
“Victor!” Leroy barked. “Gimme that.”
He moved quicker that he would have thought possible, considering his current condition, and snatched the gun out of Victor’s hand.
“Now listen to me,” he said calmly. “When was all this? When did you see him?”
“What?” Victor shook his head in panic. “Five minutes ago! What, you think I’m waiting around for him to come and get me?”
“So he’s still at Sadie’s?”
Victor nodded. “I think so.”
Leroy stood up and slipped his feet into his shoes. He swore under his breath and tried to will his heart to stop racing like a freight train.
“Sit down and breathe, Victor. I’m going to take care of this.”
“But nothing,” he snapped. “Look, I ain’t got nothin’ to lose. Let me take care of this. Don’t open the door for nobody but me, y’hear?”
Victor nodded, wide-eyed and fearsome-looking.
“You see what kind of car he drove in?”
Victor shook his head. “Didn’t see it, but he drives a big old Chevy Caprice. It’s a huge boat of a car — if it’s out there, you’ll see it.”
Leroy had no problem spotting the big man’s enormous car, and crawled into the back seat to lay in wait. The car smelled foul, like roadkill, and he had to crack a window to keep from gagging.
He switched the gun back and forth from hand to hand, wiping his sweaty hands on his pants and trying to ignore his racing heart and trembling lips. All the spit in his mouth had dried up, and he had an amusing thought: I’d kill for a drink right about now.
He was just about to laugh when the car door opened, and Gilles Duchesne, nearly seven feet tall, curled up and got in. Sitting this close to him, Leroy was intimidated by the man’s size. In a fair fight, Leroy knew he wouldn’t stand a chance.
Before the man had a chance to react, Leroy raised the gun and pulled back the hammer. The clicking sound was enough to make the man freeze and pay attention.
“I hear you’re looking for Marla Bergeron.”
Gilles grinned. A big toothy predatory smile that turned Leroy’s blood to ice water.
“Ah, the Cajun dog,” he sneered. “How you doin’ puppy? How’s bidness?”
He laughed as if he had the upper hand and didn’t have a gun pointed at the back of his head. His creepy calm nearly made Leroy throw down the gun and get out of the car and run away. Instead, he looked deep inside himself for some sort of steely reserve of his own and came up with just enough to stay where he was. He did, however, brace the gun with his other hand to stop it from shaking.
“Marla. What do you want with her?”
“Not me,” he said. “I’m just a dog like you. Only I get to sleep in the house, get my belly rubbed, get special treats. You? You’re out on a chain, beggin’ for scraps.”
Leroy pushed the gun against the back of the man’s head.
“I’m nobody’s dog.”
Gilles laughed again.
“I ain’t goan ask you again. What do you want with Marla Bergeron?”
“And I told you it ain’t me that wants her. I’m just the dog. Fetch, Gilles! And I fetch. Kill, Gilles! And I kill.”
Leroy licked his lips, but it didn’t help any.
“Are you supposed to kill Marla?” Leroy croaked.
“Nah, she wants to do that herself.”
“Olivia,” Leroy ventured.
“Ah, very good, puppy,” Gilles laughed. “You do know who’s holding your chain. Do you know who’s holding hers? Of course you do. You’ve seen her face to face haven’t you? And you still don’t believe. You are the worst sort of infidel.”
Leroy thought about what Victor had told him — about the ceremony in the bayou, and the people in white hoods, and above all, the body.
“What did you do to Amie LeBeau?”
“What, you want details? Okay, I strung that mouthy bitch up and…”
“I saw what you did!” Leroy cut him off, pushing the muzzle of the gun behind the man’s ear.
“Oh, I done a lot of things you ain’t seen,” Gilles said in a calm, even voice. “Things you ain’t even imagined.”
Leroy forced himself not to pull the trigger. Promised himself not to kill this man in anger. He need to know some things, and killing him now wouldn’t help that. Still, he needed to know; needed to hear the truth spoken, even though he already knew in his heart what he was going to hear.
“Did you kill Jean-Baptiste?”
“Oh, yes,” Gilles sighed with sick satisfaction. “At long last, I did. I gutted him just like my daddy taught me, and wouldn’t he be so proud of me?”
Leroy clenched his teeth. “Yeah, too bad your daddy’s locked up in Greenwell Springs nuthatch.”
“Yeah, too bad,” Gilles laughed. “You believe everything you hear?”
“What are you talking about? Everyone knows your dad went crazy, and they sent him away.”
“Nope. Couldn’t keep him there. Olivia got him put away for his own good, but she’s always needed a dog to do her dirty work. She sits up there in her house like it’s a goddamned palace, and never gets her hands bloody. So after a couple of years’ punishment for shooting his mouth off to the wrong people, Olivia had Daddy released, and she kept him on a leash, same as you and me. She had my daddy groom me and my brother to be her new dogs. Back in ’77, I was just twelve years old when my daddy showed me how to prepare the sacrifice for C’thuN’Chuk. Then, when she was done with him…”
Gilles made a throat-slitting gesture with one finger.
“Olivia killed your father, and you still do her dirty work?”
“I do what has to be done for the glory of our god. I have the true faith. My father lost his, but he did what he had to do. All things serve, even the faithless.”
“The preacher,” Leroy realized. “Your daddy killed Paster LeBeau?”
Gilles grinned another chilling grin. “And that ain’t all he done, neither. And now I killed his bitch of a daughter. Just like he showed me. Only I had a little more fun with her. Kept her alive a little while longer while I played with her. She was supposed to have something Olivia wanted, and so I took my time, trying to pry it out of her, but…”
He shrugged, and Leroy nearly pulled the trigger.
“But then, you’d know all about killin’, wouldn’t you, puppy? Didn’t bother you none killing my brother Darrel.”
Leroy pushed the muzzle of the gun angrily into the back of his head.
“We would have killed you, too, without a question, if we thought you had anything to do with those kids.”
Gilles laughed, a disconcerting sound. “Are you kidding? I done most of those kids myself.”
Leroy nearly dropped the gun, and had to brace himself against the seat to keep himself steady.
“Why?” was all he could manage.
“It had been twenty years. Twenty years since anyone had heard from C’thuN’Chuk. There were some among the Faithful that thought she was dead, but me, I knew she wasn’t sleeping. No, we’d just lost our fire, and she’d turned her back on us. I knew that it was going to take a sacrifice. We had to prove our worthiness.
“The children. It had to be the children. Our daddy knew it. He tried to give us to C’thuN’Chuk. ”
“Your daddy tried to kill you!”
“My daddy understood what needed to be done. Our god was angry, and had brought the hurricanes and destruction.”
“Wait, so you think…”
“I know! I have seen her destructive power. You have stared into her glorious face, and you don’t believe? How is that possible?”
“Okay, settle down,” Leroy said, pressing the gun back against the big man’s head. “So why the kids, Gilles?”
“Well, it didn’t matter, did it? That meddling nigger may have stopped my father, but you can’t stop C’thuN’Chuk. In ’77, before the last great cycle, she took the children into herself, and so began the great and glorious madness.”
“You’re insane,” Leroy managed to whisper. He could hardly move his lips.
“Enlightened. Blessed by god,” he replied coolly. “I really thought that Darrel was the one. I thought that he understood what needed to be done. But Darrel was…”
“Sick,” Leroy spat.
“Misunderstood,” Gilles corrected. “Even I didn’t understand, not at first. But I trusted my brother, and so when he came to me and told me about that first little brat, I helped him the best way I knew how. I burned the body with lye, melted it beyond recognition, and tossed it in the bayou.”
Leroy’s eyes went wide with recognition. “The Singleton boy earlier this summer. That you, too?”
“He wasn’t the only one. Only the only one you found. See, Darrel, he showed me the truth — I needed to offer the children to C’thuN’Chuk, to bring her forth. But she didn’t seem to be interested. So Darrel told me to bring him more children — that he would serve. As it is with god, so it would be with him, he told me. If C’thuN’Chuk would not take the sacrifices herself, he said, that he would have to take them in her place.”
Leroy trembled with rage and horror.
“Why’d you kill Mel Cayce? And Amie LeBeau? And Jean-Baptiste? And whoever else?”
“The three,” Gilles said. “There’s always three. ‘Cept in ’98 there wasn’t. And C’thuN’Chuk was mighty angry about that. Cursed us with Hurricane Katrina, threatened to wipe us off the map.”
Leroy thought Gilles was wrong. There were three.
“So Mel was one of the three. And who else? Josie Ammon?”
Gilles nodded. “I didn’t get to kill her, though. I just found out about it afterward. Anyhow, you ought to be grateful, puppy. I saved your ass. Mel Cayce was talkin’ all over town about how it was you that was snatching those kids. We couldn’t have people going after you, not when you had proved so useful. It had been so long since the people of Bayou Bonhomme had eaten the god’s flesh so freely. We couldn’t let that kind of asset be taken away from us.”
Leroy frowned. “I ain’t your asset anymore.”
Gilles laughed. “Of course you are. You always were. You took Mel’s body and fed it to C’thuN’Chuk, didn’t you?”
Leroy’s heart sank. He hated being manipulated. He’d spent the last fifteen years feeding poison to the people of Bayou Bonhomme, and then when he tried to break free of that, Chuk used him to kill Marla.
Maybe I should just take this gun and turn it on myself, he thought grimly.
“You ought to be proud, Leroy,” Gilles said. “You’ve been a big part of this. You’ve made so much possible by bringing the flesh to the people. Because of you, Olivia has been taking regular communion, and is more powerful than ever. Some thought she’d never really recover after what happened with her husband. Her husband and your father, actually.”
“What about my daddy?” Leroy growled, and smashed the gun off the back of Gilles’ skull.
“Oh, please,” he laughed. “You don’t scare me. Are you going to use that, or are we just going to keep reminiscing?
“You wanna die? That it?”
“I ain’t afraid to die.” Gilles said, and Leroy believed him. “I believe, but have never seen. I worship the beast, though I have never tasted her flesh.”
Leroy grimaced. “You ain’t missing much.”
“You can’t kill me. Though my body expire, I am blessed. She has promised me.”
“Who? Chuk? What that bitch promise you?” Leroy had seen Chuk take everything. She’d taken his mind, made him do things against his own will. She’d made people walk to their own deaths, and turn on one another and do horrible things to each other. He’d never known Chuk to give anything.
“No,” he said, and Leroy thought he saw a flicker of doubt in the man’s eyes. “Olivia. She promised me that she would have C’thuN’Chuk raise me from the dead. She promised me immortality.”
Leroy had to stifle a laugh. “She an even bigger liar than that fucker out in the bayou.”
“No,” he insisted. “She promised me. I am blessed. I am.”
“Good for you,” Leroy said, and calmly pulled the trigger.